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GM Canada president says electric vehicles are the future — but they won’t be made in Oshawa

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GM Canada’s president says “there isn’t anything to build” after 2019 at the company’s Oshawa plant as the automaker bets big on electric and autonomous vehicles. There will be new GM jobs in Ontario, he says — just not on that long-running assembly line.

Travis Hester, an Australian, was just eight months into his new job as president of the automaker’s Canadian operation when he had to defend a change that will thrust 2,500 employees out of work and change a city that has been churning out vehicles for GM for decades.

Did he know back in April, when he arrived in Canada, that he would oversee the shuttering of the Oshawa plant?

“No, no,” he said in an exclusive interview, his first since the closure announcement last week. The decision to close the facility, which he said was made in Detroit, came down late this fall.

Hester, who has worked for GM in the U.S, Australia and China, is now facing a battle with a union that wants to save jobs, and the plant. 

“There’s not going to be any discussions with General Motors about what this orderly wind down looks like as it will be anything but orderly,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said last Friday.

But more than a week after news of the impending shutdown, GM continues to assert there is no alternative — no matter how great the pressure from the union or the governments that helped bail out the automaker in the last financial crash.

‘We don’t have any allocation’

The auto executive says he’s made it “very clear” to both Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Trudeau that “we don’t have any allocation” for a vehicle at the Oshawa plant going forward.

“So it’s very difficult to have a discussion on anything beyond December 2019 because there isn’t anything to build,” said Hester as he toured CBC News through GM’s new technology centre in Markham, north of Toronto.

As GM cuts thousands of manufacturing jobs in Canada, it’s hiring software engineers and coders to help develop its vehicles of the future. The company wants to transform operations to focus on electric and autonomous vehicles and Hester said Canada has a place at the core of that development. 

GM opened a new Canadian Technology Centre (CTC) last January and has hired 450 employees, with plans for 500 more by 2020, many coming straight out of Canadian universities.

“We’re adding jobs and we’re adding development expertise and all the associated things that go with that into Canada, where it just simply wasn’t in the past,” Hester said.

He said the high-tech centre in Markham will keep growing, pulling in talent here and around the world. 

“We see the future very strong here and in Canada for the development side.”

‘We believe that battery-electric vehicles will be the vehicles of the future,’ GM Canada’s president says. 1:08

Demand for electric vehicles is just a small fraction of the current market right now. Hester, however, is optimistic that the growth will come.

Whether it’s regulatory requirements or consumer-driven change, he said GM believes “battery-electric vehicles will be the vehicles of the future.”

That vision is likely cold comfort to the Oshawa plant workers, who won’t get a crack at engineering electric cars. GM Canada has said it will help retrain some workers from the Oshawa plant for other work such as auto technician jobs in GM dealerships. 

“What’s happening now in Oshawa is very tough,” Hester said. “So as much as we are transforming the future we’re still paying a lot of attention to what we’ve got.”

Barra facing backlash

GM’s CEO Mary Barra, meanwhile, is under increasing pressure in the U.S., where thousands more manufacturing jobs will be lost. Barra has faced pressure from many — including the U.S. president — to reverse course, particularly on the plant slated to close in Ohio. She’s agreed to meet Wednesday in Washington with some senators who are strongly urging her to reconsider the plan.

On another front, the UAW union in the U.S. is preparing to fight GM, accusing it of reneging on a commitment to put a moratorium on plant closures for the life of the current contract, which ends in 2020.

The union in Canada is making the same accusation.
 
“We’ve seen that document, and we don’t believe the document states we can’t do that,” Hester said Monday, refusing to elaborate on the details in advance of discussions with the union.

Unifor leader Jerry Dias has lambasted GM for the job cuts in Oshawa, where workers have been making cars for the company for decades. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Unifor’s president said late last week that he thinks the company is trying to turn the dial away from the anger that followed the news of the Oshawa closure.
 
“They thought they would pacify the Canadian public by opening up the tech sector and then there would have been minimum noise at shut down,” Dias said on Friday.
 
“When they were opening the tech centre we said, ‘This is a wonderful initiative but don’t think that somehow this is going to replace their place of manufacturing jobs in Oshawa.’ And so that’s exactly how this thing came down.”

Fear around faltering demand

Closing Oshawa has raised new fears that if consumer demand falters in the future, GM might lean on its other two Ontario plants. But the Canadian boss said there are no changes planned for the CAMI plant in Ingersoll or the St. Catharines facility, which makes engines and transmissions.

“So these are going to be unchanged and continuing for the immediate future,” said Hester.

No changes planned in Ingersoll or St. Catharines 0:42

GM’s future in Canada will be a mix, he said, of growth in new technology and software development, along with existing manufacturing.

But all this will go forward without Oshawa’s flexible assembly plant, which was built in a way that allows it to be retooled.

Hester said the company doesn’t have enough volume to fill all the plants as demand for sedans falls.

“I don’t think you could put anything else in Oshawa,” he said. “Not without spending incredible amounts of investment, which would make it not viable.”



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A Look at TACT-Designed Interiors in Graywood’s Scout Condos

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Just west of the construction site for Scoop Condos on St. Clair Avenue West at Old Weston Road, Graywood Developments will soon be bringing a new 12-storey, SMV Architects-designed condominium to Toronto’s West End. Last month, we took a look at Scout Condos‘ amenity spaces—appointed by TACT Architecture‘s interior design wing—and today we’re back for a preview of the TACT-appointed suite interiors.

Scout Condos, Toronto, Graywood, SMV, TACT, St. ClairScout Condos, image courtesy of Graywood Developments

The project is offering 261 suites in a wide variety of unit types and sizes. Standard suite features are set to include 9’ ceiling heights in principal rooms, laminate wood floors, smooth painted ceilings, and neutral colour-painted interior walls. Other features include stacked washer and dryer units as well as individually controlled heating and air conditioning systems.

According to TACT’s Michael Krus, kitchens at Scout will be “more appointed, larger, with some custom elements unique to the project. We’re introducing integrated pantries into these kitchens, part of the kitchen millwork but flows into the living room so the kitchen becomes an extension of the living room. The kitchen isn’t just the kitchen, It will be support.” 

Scout Condos, Toronto, Graywood, SMV, TACT, St. ClairSuite interior, Scout Condos, image courtesy of Graywood Developments

Kitchens at Scout will feature custom-styled kitchen cabinetry in a selection of finishes, quartz countertops, glass tile backsplashes, stainless steel sinks, over-the-range microwaves with built-in exhaust fan, as well as standard appliances and integrated dishwashers.

Bathrooms will include custom-styled bathroom cabinetry in a selection of door finishes, porcelain tile finishes for walls and floors, quartz counters, and a full vanity-width mirror. Other features include white bathroom fixtures, wall-mounted vanity faucet with backsplash, and the choice of a chrome washroom accessories package.

Additional information and images can be found in our database file for the project, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the field provided at the bottom of this page.

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To request more info directly from Scout Condos click here

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Costco-style membership for hay aims to modernize handshake deals

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Cindy Wilinski says 100 years ago if you needed to buy hay for your livestock you tracked down a local farmer, by phone or in person, made a deal and hoped the product was as good as advertised.

She said nothing much has changed today, except now it might be purchased via an email or over text message.

“It’s still the old handshake kind of deal and hope you don’t get ripped off,” said Wilinsky, who owns an equine training and breeding facility near Okotoks.

Wilinsky said she first got the idea of bringing the hay business into the 21st century after a drought in 2015 left a lot of people scrambling to find hay. At that time she started a Facebook hay-sourcing group called the Haylist — a database that amassed more than 7,000 members — where people could list hay for sale, request hay and list trucking services.

The Haylist is still going but Wilinski felt she could do more to help livestock owners find good quality, affordable hay from a credible and trustworthy source. That led to the creation of the Haybank, a Costco-style membership business she launched in the fall.

And, the response has been overwhelming.

“We literally ran out of all the hay we had lined up that was on the yard as well as what was coming.”

Those who sign up pay an annual $500 membership fee, plus the cost of the hay they purchase and transportation if needed. (Contributed)

Rather than the handful of memberships she expected, 83 people signed up within weeks, including Priddis-area rancher, Danny Lansdowne.

“This year hay is all over the map and I can’t afford the $200, or $180 [per bale],” said Lansdowne, who purchased hay for his five horses and cows.

“It’s a blessing.”

Wilinski attributes the higher than expected demand to a prolonged drought pushing up the price of hay, while any lower priced hay is being snatched up, and in some cases, she says, it’s being turned around and sold at a higher price.

“You know it’s just one of those things that turns your stomach.”

Those who sign up pay an annual $500 membership fee, plus the cost of the hay they purchase and transportation if needed.

The fees allow Wilinski to purchase bulk amounts of hay, in some cases entire crops,  and keep the transportation costs down. She’s sourced hay as far east as Ontario, and south to Montana.

“The problem has always been in making the trucking affordable so it’s not landing here being priced higher than what they need locally for it,” she said.

From the feedback Wilinski’s received so far, she says people are appreciative of having a secure way to buy hay.

“And you’re not sending an e-transfer to somebody you’ve never met for hay you’ve never seen.”

Wilinski said she tests the quality of the hay once it arrives, and only after she confirms the amount and quality does she put it up for sale.

In the months since opening the Haybank Wilinski says she’s managed to work out some of the kinks, address some of the growing pains and put a more balanced system in place.

“(We’re) just trying to make sure everybody gets the feed they need for this winter,” she said. “Because by the looks of things so far we’re going to have another year that’s not looking so grand unless we get an awful lot of rain or some late snow.”

Wilinski said she’s already heard from people who want to invest in her business and hopes to get more trucks rolling in order to service her customers even better.

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Excavation Progressing at Waterfront Innovation Centre Site

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It has been four months since September when Menkes Developments marked the start of construction for the Waterfront Innovation Centre in Toronto’s East Bayfront area. Shoring activity that began the first stage is now wrapping up, and excavation has now begun for the new 12-storey, 400,000 ft², Sweeny &Co Architects-designed office development.

Waterfront Innovation Centre, Menkes, Sweeny &Co Architects, TorontoShoring at the west side of the Waterfront Innovation Centre site, image by Forum contributor Full Metal Junkie

The site is bisected by a short north-south stretch of Dockside Drive. Shoring activity is now proceeding on the smaller footprint of the western portion, where a drilling rig (above) continues to bore holes for the site’s caisson wall shoring system. Meanwhile, excavation is now progressing on the much larger eastern portion east of the road (below).

Waterfront Innovation Centre, Menkes, Sweeny &Co Architects, TorontoExcavation for the Waterfront Innovation Centre site, image by Forum contributor Full Metal Junkie

Crews are digging to a three-storey depth for the building’s underground garage, to hold 197 spaces. The dig is furthest along just east of Dockside Drive, where the pit has been excavated roughly two levels deep so far, and requiring a horizontal drilling rig to install a first row of tiebacks to anchor the shoring walls to the surrounding earth.

Waterfront Innovation Centre, Menkes, Sweeny &Co Architects, TorontoExcavation for the Waterfront Innovation Centre site, image by Forum contributor Full Metal Junkie

Tieback drilling has since progressed to the east end of the site, closest to Knapp Lane. The image below shows the horizontal drilling rig used for tiebacks sitting idle, while tubes for the site’s de-watering drape over the fence.

Waterfront Innovation Centre, Menkes, Sweeny &Co Architects, TorontoHorizontal drilling rig at the Waterfront Innovation Centre site, image by Forum contributor Full Metal Junkie

The project—part of a larger regeneration of the area overseen by Waterfront Toronto—is targeting a 2021 completion date, set to house at least 2,000 workers upon opening. WPP will be the building’s lead tenant, with the the Canadian head offices for the multinational e-commerce, advertising, online media, public relations, communications, and branding services giant to occupy 260,000 square feet of the building.

You can get more information about and see more renderings of the Waterfront Innovation Centre in our database file, linked below. You can get in on the discussion in our associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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UrbanToronto has a new way you can track projects through the planning process on a daily basis. Sign up for a free trial of our New Development Insider here.


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